Posts tagged ‘Right’

Discerning Right From Wrong

File:Italy, Bologna, 17th century - Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah (recto) Sketch of Two Men and Other Va - 1939.666 - Cleveland Museum of Art.jpg
Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah / Italy, 17th century / Wikipedia

When Jacob marries both the daughters of his uncle Laban in Genesis 29, it is difficult not to suspect that these marriages will go nowhere good fast. The story goes that Jacob falls in love with Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, and agrees to work seven years for his uncle as a kind of dowry to gain the girl. But after Jacob’s seven years of service are completed, his uncle gives him his older daughter, Leah, instead, insisting:

It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the other one also, in return for another seven years of work. (Genesis 29:26-27)

Jacob is so smitten by Rachel, he gladly obliges. The problem is that now Jacob has two wives – and one is clearly his favorite. Unsurprisingly, this causes a host of problems in both marriages. At first, only Leah is able to bear children for Jacob, which was critical in the ancient world. The continuation of a family line was a primary source of pride in this culture. When Rachel sees that Leah is bearing her husband children, she becomes jealous and gives Jacob one of her servants named Bilhah to sleep with, so he can have children she can claim through this servant. This arouses Leah’s jealousy, who responds by offering to her husband her servant, Zilpah, through whom he can have even more children.

In the middle of this marital mess, Jacob sleeps with Leah and she becomes pregnant. She is delighted and proclaims, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband” (Genesis 30:18).

Really? Leah really believes that God is pleased with her for offering her servant to her husband so he can sleep with her? Morally, this sounds preposterous to us. But it seems to have sounded sensible to Leah. After all, the proof of God’s pleasure at the arrangement was in the gift God gave her – a son.  Right?

The Psalmist once prayed: “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). Human beings are so deeply sinful that, sometimes, we sin and don’t even know it. This is true of Leah. She is so desperate for her husband’s affection that she is willing to bring an extra woman into a relationship that is already problematically polygamous and then interpret the fruit of that sin as a sanction from God.

A story like this should instill in us a little humility. If Leah could think that something as deeply morally wrong as offering another woman to your husband is right, is there a possibility that we might get morally confused, too?

The prophet Isaiah once warned:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Morally, we can often try to be too clever by half. We cleverly excuse our lies using a cloak of confidentiality. We cleverly cover our gossip with a patina of prayer. And we, like Leah, can cleverly misinterpret a blessing from God as a divine imprimatur on some kind of bad behavior.

To understand right and wrong, morality and immorality, righteousness and wickedness, we must constantly return to the clear certainty of God’s commands. He is the One who can take our worst moral instincts and replace them with a godly conscience, shaped by His Spirit and truth. So, let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s listen to the Lord.

November 16, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wrong and Wrong-er

Candidates

Credit:  Huffington Post

Recently, I read a blog by a well known pastor who expressed concern over the lack of civility in this year’s presidential election cycle.  In his blog, he singled out one candidate who caused him particular concern.  Although I do not think it is always inappropriate to discuss a particular candidate in a blog (I myself have done so), I do believe that a pastor should enter into such discussions with more than a fair share of fear and finesse.  Political figures are notoriously hard to critique in a way that leads people to listen to and engage with the critique because these figures tend to engender reflexive emotions long before they inspire extended thought.  Such was the case with this pastor’s blog.  There were many commenters who were appreciative of this pastor’s words.  Others were deeply offended and even furious that a pastor would critique, even if gently, a presidential candidate.  Some argued that it is never appropriate for a pastor to critique political candidates.  Others, like this commenter, argued against this pastor’s critique like this:

Cute hit piece on [my candidate]. Now lets talk about letting [another candidate] in the White House … who wouldnt know the truth if [this other candidate] saw it.

This is a fascinating argument because it basically runs like this: “My candidate may not be all that great, but this other candidate is worse!  Therefore, I will support my candidate and will attack anyone who tries to point out a concern with my candidate, even if the concern is legitimate.”  In other words, this commenter is trying to excuse bad behavior from her candidate by pointing out what is – at least in her mind – worse behavior from another candidate.

It’s not just angry social media commenters who makes these kinds of arguments.  Professional pundits do as well.  Consider this from John O’Sullivan of National Review:

[One candidate] tells falsehoods loosely and spontaneously in a sort of stream-of-consciousness lying to boost his prospects, win over doubters, crush opponents, and save his face. Details can be found all over the Internet. Most of them strike me as trivial. But none of the [leading candidates] have been exactly models of truth-telling in this campaign. So the relevant question then becomes “Compared with whom?” Let’s compare [this candidate’s] boastful and evasive untruths with the very different lies of [another candidate] on various immigration bills he has tried to sell.[1]

Mr. O’Sullivan explicitly and unashamedly justifies one candidate’s lies by pointing to another candidate’s lies.  Since when did lying become okay at all?  How does the fact that presidential candidates lie make anything better?  Did Mr. O’Sullivan ever stop to think that it might be best – rather than excusing a preferred political candidate for his bad behavior by pointing to some other bad behavior – to argue and ask for better behavior?

These kinds of arguments, it should be pointed out, are not only the stuff of election year politics.  They are also the arguments of nearly everyone who desperately wants to excuse some bad behavior.  “Yes, I may have stolen that dress, but it’s not like I’m Bernie Madoff!”  “Yes, I may have had an emotional affair, but that’s completely different from a physical affair!”  “Yes, I may be a drunkard, but at least I’m not a self-righteous religious person!”

Whenever I hear these kinds of arguments, I’m led to ask:  so what?  What do these kinds of arguments accomplish?  What do they prove?  Does pointing out someone else’s wrong somehow make you right?  My mother used to tell me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  Do two wrongs of perceived unequal wrongness somehow make one wrong right?

The answer to the above question, of course, is, “No.”  One cannot right a wrong by comparing it to another wrong-er wrong.  All such a comparison does is inevitably lower all moral standards because it points only to that which is below it rather than aspiring to that which is above it.  And when a comparison only looks down, where else is there to go but down?  Thus, this comparison inevitably drags those who make it down into deeper immorality rather than spurring them on to a more carefully considered higher ethic.

It is impossible to make a wrong right by comparing it to something else that is wrong.  This is why, when He wanted to make us right with Him, God didn’t just send someone who wasn’t quite as bad as we were, He sent someone who was truly good because He was fully perfect.  Our Savior raised the bar of morality all the way to perfection and then gave us His perfection by being raised on a tree for our salvation.  From His perfect morality comes not only a way of salvation apart from our merits, but a way for daily living that is to declare His merits.

So whether we are a candidate for President of the United States or an everyday citizen working a job and raising a family, let’s look to Christ’s standard of morality rather than wallowing around in the mud of someone else’s immorality.  Let’s aspire to that.  Let’s hold each other to that – not because we can ever attain that by our own merits, but because we should actually want that.  To settle for anything less is just plain wrong.

________________________

[1] John O’Sullivan, “The Rise of the Undocumented Republicans,” National Review (2.26.2016).

 

February 29, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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